Above: TF North High School and TF South High School students join together to form the Student Action Team. One of the group’s biggest events is an annual Thanksgiving dinner for those in need. This year’s dinner took place on Saturday, November 16. (Photo provided)
by Jennifer Pallay
CALUMET CITY, Ill. (November 26, 2019) – Members of the Student Action Team love to help others—and they did just that in November by providing a special Thanksgiving meal to those in need.
The community service group includes students from TF North and TF South high schools who plan and organize volunteer events around the schools and in the Chicagoland area. One of the team’s largest projects is their Thanksgiving dinner, which members recently organized for the third year.
“We want people to have somewhere to go and celebrate without worrying about where it’s coming from,” said Ana Boesenberg, Student Action Team co-sponsor and Spanish teacher at TF North.
Students from both schools cook the food, serve the food, and run everything from children’s activities to the coat check.
“We want it to be restaurant-style,” said Ayanna Dowd, team co-sponsor and speech language pathologist at TF North and TF South. “It’s a great chance for [the students] to understand the world isn’t only about them.… It gives them an appreciation for what they have.”
The students also learn that the face of need may be different from what they expect.
“They look just like you and I, but they don’t have any food,” Dowd said. “As they come in, the students are humbled. They look around and see all these people who need food. That’s something they aren’t used to thinking about.”
The sponsors encourage students to talk to attendees and listen to their stories. One especially moving moment this year was when a diner spoke about how he was thankful just to get out of his house and have somewhere to go.
Student Action Team president Michelle Valdivia, a junior at TF North, said that in a society where so many people are cold and guarded, “it humbles me as a person, and it fills me with a great sense of happiness to see we are helping those in need. When I’m helping others, they are always smiling and so so grateful for everything we do, and it brings me so much happiness to know that we brought a little bit of happiness into their lives.”
One community, one district
Jesus Barraza, a junior at TF North and a Student Action Team member, said he has seen the Thanksgiving dinner evolve over the past three years.
“I feel great because each year the numbers grow,” he said, crediting the team’s “awesome sponsors” and generous members with the success.
“The people on the action team are really helpful people,” he said. “We do it to bring the community together. It isn’t only about giving back, but it’s also about uniting as well. This is an event where we come together as a district.”
The Thanksgiving meal is made possible through donations from sponsors in the communities.
“Our event got bigger this year and the community was awesome about helping us,” Dowd said.
Administration teams at both schools also make the event possible.
“They allow us to do what we do, so that is great. I love to see the community come out to help each other,” Dowd said.
All kinds of students
The Student Action Team invites any interested student from either school to join. Members can participate as their schedules allow.
“A lot of our students hear about us and want to join. We are very inclusive. We have a lot of students from our special education population,” Boesenberg said.
Dowd’s caseload includes many special education students who often are not involved in sports or clubs.
“This gives them an opportunity to access the school with the other students. We have varying cognitive abilities. Our general ed kids have worked really well together with them,” she said.
Helping other organizations
In addition to the Thanksgiving dinner, the Student Action Team exists to serve the community, said Valdivia. “If there are other organizations that would like volunteers, I want them to know we are here. We are available, and they can contact us and we can set up a date to go out as a team and help them out.”
The Student Action Team also does a veterans lunch in May, and they volunteer at the Chicago Food Depository, Ronald McDonald House, Cradles to Crayons, the Humane Society, and local elementary schools and retirement homes.
TF North High School is located at 755 Pulaski Road in Calumet City, Illinois.
TF South High School is located at 18500 Burnham Avenue in Lansing, Illinois.